At the sign of the Barking lion...

St George, Bradfield St George

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Bradfield St George

Bradfield St George Bradfield St George Bradfield St George
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St George   I've been coming to this church fairly regularly for about ten years now. Most recently, I came cycling up the long hill along the edge of the woods from Rushbrooke, pedalling hard to beat the impending rain. I got to Bradfield St George to discover that I had left my camera at Rushbrooke, and had to go back for it. But the rain held off anyway.

Lost in the lonely hills to the south east of Bury, the church is a noble prospect, a hill top tower raising its head to heaven. It is said that you can see 16 other towers from the top of it. You certainly get a fine view of this one from the busy Bury to Sudbury road, but three miles later you find yourself very much in the outback. A field in this parish had the medieval name Hellesdun, and is one of the sites suggested as that of the martyrdom of St Edmund, which happened at a place of that name. To be honest, Hoxne still seems more likely, but there is also a Sutton here, the name of the place where the body was taken, and Hoxne has never satisfactorily come up with one of those.

As is so often the case with a church you've seen from miles off, the tower disappears as you get nearby. There is now a sign at the entrance to the narrow lane leading up to it, but on more than one occasion in the past I have cycled straight past. The track leads up between two gardens, and when you get there, it isn't a huge building at all, but quite homely, like its neighbour Little Whelnetham. That 15th century tower is impressive though, lifting to heaven. Unusually, it has a large dedicatory inscription at ground level, picked out in black flint in the stonework on the two westerly buttresses. Her begynnyth John Bacon owthe of the fundacyon Jhu pserve him It seems to say, John Bacon being the donor in question.

The graveyard here is a wildlife sanctuary, with open fields beyond. A light clerestory came with the north aisle, but Mortlock thought the rest of the building much earlier, probably Norman. In any case, there is a great sense of continuity, although perhaps the late medieval glory of the Perpendicular rules over all. I stepped through the doorway into the familiar, bright interior, the high windows flooding the nave with light. This is a very well done 19th century interior, but not without the memory of the more distant past.

Two benches in the north aisle reveal it. One bench end, which I think is actually a 19th century replacement, appears to be a flying dog, but is almost certainly the flying lion evangelistic symbol of St Mark. The other is old, probably 15th century. It is a poopyhead which has a face in it with a protruding tongue. It might be a green man, but it might more likely be the figure of Scandal, found in exactly the same way across the county at Blythburgh.

Also in the north aisle is a splendid funeral bier. We tend to think of these as ancient as well, but of course they are mainly 19th and 20th century. Many were in use well into living memory. A few in Suffolk still are. This one has a plaque on it which reveals that it was paid for by the Entertainments Committee in 1924.

A 20th century carved image of St George stands in a medieval niche flanking the chancel arch, and the glorious reredos is the best of its kind in the county. St George must have been a very high Anglo-catholic church in its day, and the reredos, with its depictions of the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, and the figures of St George and St Felix flanking the piece, is a relic of those days. Above is the excellent east window, the work of Edward Prynne in 1913, one of the last shouts of the triumphant pre-WWI Church of England.

reredos: adoration of the magi reredos: holy family reredos: adoration of the shepherds
St George Blessed Virgin and Child Christchild St Felix

I always leaf through the visitors' book when I visit a church, and so it was that a number of years ago I noticed that this church has a regular visitor who signs the book and makes a comment on the occasion of every visit, sometimes several times a week. Some double page spreads consist of nothing but the record of their visits. I was pleased to find on my most recent visit that this tradition has been kept up, even to the extent of them wishing A Happy Easter to their regular readers. A contact of mine observed recently that this was typically 'Normal for Suffolk' - so it is, and long may it remain so.

I stepped outside again into the busy late spring of deepest rural Suffolk.. This was the parish that Adrian Bell wrote about as Benfield St George in his masterpiece Corduroy, the single best evocation of Suffolk rural life this century. I had thought of him a few weeks before, cycling this way, and seeing the deep cut fields leading the eye to the horizon, like the corduroy of his imagination. Now, in April, the furrows were a deep green.

Not far from here is Bradfield Wood, an ancient woodland superbly maintained by the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation. There is a silence there that you find rarely these days in the southern half of England, so close are we so often to major roads. In this area, that unnoticed background noise falls away, birdsong and windrush rises imperceptibly, and here in Bradfield there is a sense of things beyond the present, beyond the material.


Simon Knott, May 2008

south doorway looking east St George sanctuary looking west
angels Blessed Virgin Blessed Virgin crucified St John
winged lion Norman splay St George window sticking out a tongue
born 1822 died 1911 Prynne Jennings angels
nave 1920s bier entertainment committee visitors book



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